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October 20, 2015

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

COACH DANTONIO: Obviously big game last weekend. Coming back down a little bit, so focus on Indiana and the opportunities that lie ahead for us. So a big game this weekend. Have a bye next weekend, so this is a very important, I think crucial aspect of this season is to go into the bye week healthy and productive.

So I think what we'll do is I'll just take some questions now and we'll go from there.

Q. How did you spend your Saturday night? Did you play pool?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I never made it to the pool table. Took a little longer to get home than we thought. Got home and just sort of tried to take it all in a little bit, exactly what had had happened and just spend time with my family. We had some friends and stuff, some coaches came over and stuff like that. Got pretty tired about an hour after I got home.

Q. Following up on one of your national interviews yesterday, you said one of the things you did was you spun it around and asked yourself what you would have done in Michigan's situation. What is the difference in the different punt formations? Do you guys have more than one, and what would you have done in that situation?
COACH DANTONIO: A lot of different formations in punt. I think you see that across the country right now. So punt is a very innovative -- I guess people are extremely innovative in punt formations these days.

Obviously we need to get better at what we're doing. But there's all different type of tacks that you can take. You've got to recognize the situation I think on the field. Recognize that they have a guy back in that situation or not; if they don't, you bring your gunners in possibly. There's different things you can do from a blocking scheme thing.

But I think more than anything, it just made me pause to reflect on, okay, what do we got to make sure that doesn't happen on our end. Because you try to practice every situation. We always do and we all practice these different situations, but I don't think we practiced one quite like that where that's been the scenario.

So I think it just created a pause in all of our minds as a staff, okay, what would we do in that situation, how would we handle it. And I'm sure that there's a lot of that going on right now across the country relating to what happened in the game just because of the nature of it.

Q. What's the update an Jalen and the dialogue you've had with him and what condition is he in?
COACH DANTONIO: Jalen got back last night, yesterday afternoon. So he was in the offices yesterday in the training room.

The update is it's all set. His hip has been repaired and it's set. He has to stay off of it for three months. So it's a long process. And then after that, he'll be able to start rehabbing it. I'm not sure how long that takes him out. Probably takes him out for spring, possibly, as well, but we'll see. Just depends on how he handles the rehab. He was in good spirits, and a lot of people making it over. The man, the legend, is back.

Q. You're all talking about players got to be in place to make plays when their opportunity comes, and you alluded to this after the game but there is an example where a kid who does not play a lot could have just fallen on the ball and didn't have the presence of mind to pick up and run and realize the game ends if he doesn't get in the end zone.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you sort of -- in plays like that, I think you try to evaluate every single person that's on the field in terms of what they did. You know, Grayson Miller got bumped off. He got bumped off outside but he reaccelerated back to the block point and he was there to be able to knock the ball out. I'm not sure he knocked it out or was swung out, but he was involved in it.

Matt Morrissey came off the edge and he was one step away and when he muffed it, he was able to make I think the initial hit. Then you've got Jermaine Edmondson who is just out on the outside and really all of a sudden gets back involved and makes the big block and then Jalen is scooping the ball up. A lot of things going on there. I think you guys have done a nice job of looking at it and sort of detailing it.

Q. Wonder if you were able to be there when his teammates saw him for the first time; what that situation was like.
COACH DANTONIO: He was already in the training room when I walked down there, so a lot of our guys had seen him.

Q. Humor me a little bit. I asked you if you had a name or the play and you said, well, I'd have to think about that. Did you come up with anything?
COACH DANTONIO: I came up with Rangers. Rangers Mission 4-10 on that (laughter) works perfectly. There you go. That's it. That's all I've got for you. We're on to Indiana.

Q. With that being said, Indiana's offense presents some challenges over the top. With the secondary being what it is with you guys, how can you stop them from being so effective through the air?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we've got good players, first of all. We have got guys with good deep ball judgment. We have guys who can tackle on the edge. I was impressed with how Grayson Miller and Khari Willis played as true freshmen in that environment. So they are only going to continue to get more accustomed and feel better about -- not as much anxiety, and they are very level-headed.

I think we've got other guys out there playing at corner. I thought that Cox and Calhoun played very well. We'll probably take the red-shirt off Tyson Smith this week. I think that's a for sure. He's been very, very good.

He would have been the next corner in the game on Saturday. We just didn't need to use him, but we're going to play him this week and that's going to happen based on how fast they move and the rapid deployment of their plays. So I think that that will happen. So he'll be involved and we'll look further into the depth chart. But we have got good players. They have been coached and expect them to play.

But the one thing that we always evaluate: Can you tackle, do you have deep ball judgment; and our guys have that and they can run. So we'll be fine. We'll be fine back there.

Q. The last two weeks, R.J. Shelton has made two incredible catches, one clutch in that Rutgers game and another along the sidelines. You might be 5-2 if he doesn't make those two catches. Expound on his development and where have you seen it most.
COACH DANTONIO: R.J., and I think I said it in the summer, R.J. has made himself into a wide receiver. He has great ball judgment, ball skills. He's got great quicks. He's explosive.

When we first moved him over there and he was a true freshman, that was 2013. There were a lot of things that were -- he was in and out of the backfield and he was running the football.

He's become more of a viable threat down the field, and he's had a lot of catches for us, a lot of good catches, and he's a great threat for a run-after catch. I think his confidence is very high right now, and he's going to be a junior this year, so he'll be a senior this year but he's played all four years for us. Doing an outstanding job and I think he's a go-to guy.

Q. Following up on what you said about Tyson Smith, you've been mentioning Josh Butler -- is Smith ahead of Butler? Is it possible both of them will be activated and also do you look at Demetrious Cox moving forward and prefer him at corner?
COACH DANTONIO: He's a wildcard, first of all. Cox is a wildcard; he can play either/or, multitude of positions and he has the experience to do so, and he's started at multiple positions now for us.

So we'll see how he fits based on everybody else playing in a situation like -- and Josh Butler is playing. He's the No. 2. I think Tyson is probably maybe a little bit ahead of him but Josh could play, as well. Both of them are working as No. 2 corners and they are both very good players.

You just try and -- as much as anything, I've tried to hold our freshmen so that they were able to get their feet on the ground academically and be able to move forward. You play four years; really, you're in school three and a half years because most people tend to want to go work out.

So I want them to graduate. There's no question that both those guys could have showed up on special teams already, but in my mind, they should be playing significant plays if we are taking a red-shirt off of them. And so that's why we have not played them yet because they weren't in a position to play significant plays.

I think this week, Tyson will be for sure. I think maybe Josh, maybe, but we'll see. We do have other options there. He's a good player, though.

Q. You talked about how this team is prepared to move on after playing in a big game and moving on to the next one; did you say anything to the team to drive that point home to the team?
COACH DANTONIO: It's all about handling success I think, and it will paint the picture of our record. After big games, after wins and losses after big games, we'll paint the picture of what we have been, and the standard that is expected.

And I can't remember that number right off the top of my head, but it's -- I don't know whether it's 26-6 or 27-6, I'm not sure. But it's pretty -- it's high.

So to me, the worst -- obviously the worst thing we can do is fall backwards here, so we need to continue to move forward and you know, our dreams are ahead of us, and they start this Saturday. So I think our players will be ready to play.

Q. The College Football Playoff poll comes out in a week or two. Do you feel you've made a convincing argument to be part of that conversation?
COACH DANTONIO: I think the only argument that needs to be made is in the last week of that poll, personally. That's the bottom line. All that other stuff is talk. It's just something to move around and talk about it, you know, just to evaluate.

But from my perspective, what we do at the end of the season and November is really what's going to set us apart.

Q. The backfield picture doesn't look clear on your depth chart. You have four guys listed as starters; can you expand expound on that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we played three in the game on Saturday and at any point in time you could have said: There's the starter or there's the backup. And you know, we'll probably get the fourth one back.

So that's why -- we really just don't know until we know how the week has shaped out, and really, how they are performing in the game and who's hot. But I think all those guys are very capable, very capable running backs. Potential big plays and adds something to this football team very positively.

Q. The decision with Jake Hartbarger and Tyler O'Connor going forward this week, obviously until the last play, special teams was not a strength last week. Where is Jake right now and what is going into that decision?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that remains to be seen until we get through this week. Tyler O'Connor has a bit more experience as a football player on the field in pressure situations. Jake is a red-shirt freshman.

I just wanted to make sure that going into the Michigan game, that at Michigan, his nerves were calm. And we need to be playing better on the punt team, coverage-wise and punting the football and snapping the football.

So I'll lay it out there and what people do with that, probably come after us. But we need to. So we're going to work extremely hard this week and people have to understand, that's a big part of every football game, as you saw this last week, we need to prepare ourselves mentally.

So we're going to punt the best guy. If we don't have the best guy, we'll find the next best guy.

Q. In 2001 after the T.J. Duckett catch in the end zone, Michigan State was flying high after a Michigan win. Indiana came in and blew the doors off the place a little bit. I know it's been 14 years, but do you go back with them and just remind what can happen after a magnitude win or is it so far, it's just irrelevant to these players?
COACH DANTONIO: I think what's important is, I talked with before, about handling success and being able to move forward. I think 2001, I wasn't here; they weren't here; different time, different place.

But obviously it can happen. Indiana has an outstanding football team. I think they are extremely well-coached. Kevin Wilson does an unbelievable job. They have a big-time quarterback in Sudfeld who leads the league in passing. Very, very capable wide receiver, big play guy out there, talented tailbacks. Defense is playing better. They are extremely capable. They have played -- their football games are 4-3 right now. Every single game has been extremely competitive.

They probably, for sure, could have won -- they could have beaten Ohio State. They probably could very easily be 6-1 from the scores, certainly, and the Penn State game was much closer than it appeared. Their quarterbacks were dinged up. Sudfeld was not playing and Diamont was knocked out of the game, as well. So they were on their third quarterback that game.

We expect a very, very good football game. I think they are, as I said, I think it will be a great challenge for us. Always have been. We've played them every year.

Q. Grayson said after the game him and Khari have great chemistry and is a big part of what they are able to do. How important is that and what do they have intangibly that has allowed them to ascend like this?
COACH DANTONIO: Intangibly, they are both very meticulous people, and they are very tough-minded. So I think they are -- Grayson was valedictorian of his high school class.

Khari is an excellent student, as well. Khari was a basketball player, played AAU teams all over the country and was a mid-major recruit in basketball. So he's used to being I think on a big stage and playing around major college players, so he's not intimidated by the situation at all. He's a very aggressive player.

I think Grayson is an outstanding athlete, great ball skills. He's big. When he came here at camp, he had one scholarship offer, Western Kentucky. And we looked at him at camp and after he long jumped 10-6 and verticaled 37 inches and ran two 4-4s; and then went outside and caught the ball and did the drills, and he was 6'2 and a half, 205, we thought, maybe we just ought to offer him a scholarship (Laughter).

So he is everything that we thought he's going to be. He's an outstanding tackler as well. He had six tacklers and he's only going to get better. He's a very quick learner and both those guys are very quick learners. And they are not intimidated by the situation and they are hungry. And they will play on every special teams, as well. And obviously got to back our coaches off a little bit in terms of using them on over special teams, but they are involved in those, as well.

So they are active players at a young age, but I think both those guys could be very, very good players for us.

Q. How much of the coverage issues are due to trajectory of the punts and the kickoffs, and is that a technique issue or more confidence psychology?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's confidence psychology, basically, because I think all of our specialists have the skills. They have just got to get back in rhythm. So that's the first thing.

Second, I think our punt problems are twofold: One, we out-punted the coverage against Oregon, and Jake Hartbarger has unbelievable ability, unbelievable ability. He reminds me of Tommy Tupa, who was at Ohio State when I was a graduate assistant there; punted a long time in the NFL.

Great ability. But he's just young. And he needs to understand that he needs to step up there and do his best every is single time, and don't worry about it if it's not. I'll worry about it, okay.

But you know, I think that's youth. I just didn't want him involved in an environment at Michigan in this kind of game at this point. And I felt like Tyler O'Connor just had more -- because he's a quarterback, a little bit more poise, and he's done a nice job punting the football.

At the kickoff position -- so I think it's twofold, I think it is coverage some, because we have (inaudible) off-coverage a little bit, and doing some different things there. And our second level of coverage is our offensive lineman.

So if you break the first level, it gets difficult. Had a very talented returner in Peppers back there and they had a good scheme. So that was a positive -- that was on their end.

And then on the kickoff deal, we have to kick the ball in the end zone a little more often; we are not doing that. Last year, 67 percent of his kicks were in the end zone, were not returned, and this year, it's 20 percent.

So got to be better. There's no other way, after seven games, there's no other way to say it except to say it. Our coverage, you have got to take off people with the right technique. The person that popped out, the kick was down to the three and had good enough hang time. Ball on (indiscernible -- coughing) with the wrong shoulder by one of our players, and T.J. Harrell takes the ball on with his wrong shoulder and the ball splits. Matt Morrissey doesn't get over quite like he's supposed to and so the ball spits out.

And credit Michigan, but we could have prevented that, as well, because I thought we had it bottled up. A little bit of both on that one. But we've got to get better kicks and then when we make alternative kicks, we have to cover the alternative kicks, as well.

Q. Off the beaten path here, these games, I can raise a family in the time these games take to play. I'm asking you to take your coaching hat off. You want to get the call right, but are we overdoing replay and booth review? It just seems insane?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't think if we are overdoing it or not. I mean, I see some that need to be replayed and they are trying to get it right. I don't know what to say about that. Some things I can control and some things I can't, so there's no reason for me to I guess comment on things I can't control.

Q. I notice from last week's depth chart, Darian Hicks was not on there. Is there any update on him?
COACH DANTONIO: Right now he's questionable for the game. Whether he practices or not, we'll game plan if he doesn't practice. So right now, he's questionable.

Q. The other question I had: Coming off of an emotional win, are these weeks for coaching staffs a little more difficult, or do you have to focus more to get these guys to get past that a little bit, or is this group good at that on their own?
COACH DANTONIO: That senior leadership, No. 1; getting ourselves ready to play, No. 2. Much rather have it this way.

But No. 3 is our dreams are in front of us. These are things that our players set down as goals and said, okay, this is what we want to do.

And we've talked about how to reach our goals. You don't say, hey, we are going to win all our games or we are going to go to the playoffs. You have got to fight your way to that.

So the next bout, the next challenge is Indiana coming in here. I hope our players, after the success we've had around here for the last three or four or five years, our players understand that you get there, and the only thing that matters is that you get there at the end. But that you get there through hard work, perseverance, conviction, and it has to be every single week.

So that's how we're set up right now. That's the culture we have. So I would be extremely disappointed if we didn't come to play. That doesn't mean we're going to win. What that means is we are going to come emotionally ready to play and go from there.

Q. What is the 4-10 --
COACH DANTONIO: I was wondering why nobody asked me that. That's the mission number, No. 1, I guess.

But we were saying all week that mental is to physical as four is to one; that you had to be four times mentally tough than you were physically tough. And inevitably, it was going to come down to a mental game. They were going to make some plays. We were going have to handle adversity, we were going to have to handle the crowd, weather a storm or be the storm, one of the two. We were going to have to be able to do that. So that was where the 4-1 came in.

The ten seconds obviously comes in at the back end, with the last ten seconds of the game. But it also comes in on the front end because we sat on that bus for ten extra seconds because I wanted to make sure our players understood the size of this game, the bigness of this particular game, the impact it will have not only on them at that point in time but on their entire lives. And so that's where the 4-10 comes in. That's where we're at.

Q. And the ten --
COACH DANTONIO: I think it stands for ten.

Mid might madness, I want to thank Coach Izzo for coming down on Saturday. I haven't made that trek, maybe I will sometime.

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